THE COWARD dies a thousand deaths (in the well-worn aphorism), the brave man dies but once. The dental coward, on the other hand, lacking the specter of death to dignify his fears and evasions, makes do with postponing a thousand appointments at the last moment on increasingly implausible pretexts (the dog ate my car keys; the ozone layer is too thin for me to go out; I've just been indicted) while the brave man cheerfully fills in for him in the chair on a half-hour's notice.

Like fearful fliers, dental cowards are many in number, and no more likely to be shamed out of their phobia than they are to be coaxed out of it by statistics or the reassurances of experts, all of whom have, to them, the credibility of the man with the Novocain needle who says: "This will sting a little."

Now, however, there may be hope, at least a little of it, flowing from an encouraging technological development. Recently there was a report in The Post's Health section on a new device that may replace Novocain. "Electronic dental anesthesia (EDA) sends electronic impulses to the brain through electrodes attached to the gums," the report said. "The impulses block pain signals traveling from nerve endings in the teeth to the brain. Patients can control the level of anesthesia from a box by their chair."

One expert predicts that within five years, the majority of dentists will be using EDA. That may be all the encouragement the hard-core dental coward needs to stop procrastinating and make an appointment at last. Maybe for a day in late December or early January. Maybe for about five years from now.